WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Methadone-related deaths have skyrocketed, fueled by a jump in theft and misuse of the addiction-treatment drug, according to a Justice Department report released Wednesday.
Methadone is used to treat addiction to opiates.
The report said methadone-related deaths jumped from 786 in 1999 to 3,849 in 2004.
By contrast, during the same period, deaths related to cocaine increased 43 percent from 3,822 to 5,461.
The National Drug Intelligence Center, an arm of the Department of Justice, says it published the assessment because of its concern over the sharp increases stemming from the diversion and abuse of methadone.
The center, which analyzes and dispenses strategic drug intelligence, noted methadone is safe and effective when prescribed and used correctly to treat opiate addiction, but is deadly when misused --"particularly in combination with other prescription drugs, alcohol, or illicit drugs."
The report said physicians dispensed the drug more frequently in the management of pain during the years studied.
"Methadone thefts from manufacturers, distributors and retailers have increased the amount of methadone available for abuse," the report said.
"Diversion from pain management facilities, hospitals, pharmacies, general practitioners, family and friends, and to a lesser extent narcotics treatment programs, increased availability, primarily at the retail level," the study said.
The study said Florida had by far the most methadone deaths during the past three years of the study -- 2002 to 2004. Four hundred deaths occurred in Florida during 2004. North Carolina was second with 245 deaths, followed by California, New York, Washington, Texas, Virginia and Kentucky.
Officials say the problem continues to get worse, with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reporting as many as 716 methadone deaths in 2006. E-mail to a friend